Residents’ involvement is a major challenge to implementing Myanmar’s Ecotourism Policy and Management Strategy, according to industry sources.
The ecotourism policy and management strategy was launched at the first International Conference on Ecotourism held in Nay Pyi Taw from May 19-21, 2015. However, potential conflicts with the livelihoods of local people, such as farming and hunting, still pose challenges to implementation of the ecotourism plan.
“People from villages located in wildlife sanctuaries depend on hunting for their livelihood. For instance, in early March in Chat Thin Wildlife Sanctuary, a forestry worker who was guarding the camp was attacked by 10 hunters. This shows it won’t be easy to implement ecotourism there without having local people’s cooperation,” said Ko Ngwe Lin of the Myanmar Alliance for Transparency and Accountability (MATA) for Sagaing Region in an interview with The Myanmar Times.
“There is another problem: Farmers in nearby villages are expanding their crop cultivation areas. And we know that there are golden deer in Chat Thin. If we demand that local people not kill these deer, it may create a confrontation with them, because hunting is their livelihood. This is a big challenge. There is a need to create job opportunities for local people to continue to implement ecotourism,” he added.
On March 1, one of seven forestry workers who are collecting data on deer had a confrontation with hunters in Chat Thin sanctuary while six of their colleagues were in town buying food and other supplies.
Workshops on 21 ecotourism camps were first held in August and September 2014 at Yangon, Kawthoung, Puta-o, Mandalay and Mindat townships. Although implementation of the project began only after environmental analyses had been carried out as discussed in the workshops, there are still challenges to overcome.
“We need about two years to implement ecotourism in Chat Thin. We have to make sure there is enough transportation and electricity. Building log cottages for foreign tourists as well as planting trees to conserve forests are other things that are needed,” ecotourism implementation committee chair U Soe Lwin told The Myanmar Times.
The Chat Thin Wildlife Sanctuary Management Project was unveiled at Kanbalu township, Sagaing Region on March 6. Public awareness programs will aim to encourage local cooperation, as more than 30 villages occupy more than 60,000 acres of the sanctuary, said U Soe Lwin, who is also regional chief auditor.
U Thaung Naing Oo of the Mandalay Region Tour Guide Association said the most important thing is for ecotourism to create job opportunities for locals.
“It is important to create jobs for local tour guides because they know the region well and can guide travelers. Their cooperation is the most important thing. If we create job opportunities for them, electric-shock fishing will decline. We can say that because the dolphin-watching trips in Mandalay Region are more successful each year. As far as we know, there were 15 dolphin-watching trips during this year’s high season from October to March,” he said.
“We’re opening up elephant camps now. I think that’s great. However, these camps will not come close to the elephant camps in Chiang Mai. Their ecotourism program is excellent and their adventures are marvelous. We had to cross a small river with a raft, and rode the elephants through the mountains -- those kinds of things. There are a lot more things that can be added to the dolphin-watching program. In our trips, we have included a visit to the pottery-making village of Nwe Nyein. Besides watching the dolphins, there is also a small forest that contains Mindon Min’s letters, so an elephant camp can be included there. As the trip starts near Mingun, there can be a program to welcome guests with bullock carts,” he added.
One of the advantages of the Mandalay Region Dolphin Tour, which started in 2014, compared with the wildlife conservation programs of other regions and countries is that the roads and transportation in Mandalay were already good, and foreign tourists were already coming there to watch the Ayeyarwady dolphins.
A workshop meeting in September 2014 in Mandalay was attended by forestry administrators from nine areas: Chat Thin Wildlife Sanctuary, Alaungdaw Kathapa National Park, Inlay Lake Wetland Sanctuary, Lawkananda Wildlife Sanctuary, Panlaung and Padalin Cave Wildlife Sanctuary, Popa Mountain National Park, Shwesettaw Wildlife Reserve, Wethtigan Wildlife Sanctuary and Indawgyi Lake Wildlife Sanctuary. Among the issues discussed was designating prioritized places; recording the main places in the region, the different types of organisms present and other natural phenomenon; programs for promoting effectiveness; strengthening the supervision of tourism businesses in protected wildlife areas; improving transportation, infrastructure and investment; paving the way for new job opportunities for locals; and finding ways to raise incomes.
While Myanmar is struggling to carry out its ecotourism plan, among other ASEAN countries, Laos is the only one that has actualised the ecotourism industry.